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PRHK Viewpoints: Mind the Reputation Gap in the Professional Services Sector

PRHK Viewpoints: Mind the Reputation Gap in the Professional Services Sector

June 30th 2022

How can professional services firms cut through the noise and differentiate their brand?

Professional services firms operate in a crowded space where their services and offerings are often seen as homogeneous, despite having very unique specialisms in a particular skill or industry. Firms such as management consultancies, law firms, accounting and auditing firms, corporate finance and restructuring advisors among others, compete for share of voice in media and engagement across social platforms. However, what does it take to differentiate? Here is some food for thought.

The art of brand building and effective articulation of corporate narrative

Organization by practice group, service line or as a matrix structure is not uncommon among professional services players. At times, this construes a slightly siloed operation of business lines and presents an inherent challenge of conflicting priorities across different business lines within specialist firms when it comes to brand positioning. Teams may not always understand the importance in consistently articulating who they are, what they stand for, and why they are different from an overall corporate branding perspective.

While professional services firms focus PR efforts on driving media mileage in certain topics, they often miss opportunities in communicating their corporate narratives which encompass vision and mission, purpose, corporate values, people and culture, cross-practice synergies, as well as ESG and sustainability efforts. These key aspects are the unique attributes that help specialist firms to paint a multi-faceted brand that goes beyond what a standalone practice offers.

Subject matter experts with insights as the point of differentiation

Professional services firms sell their expertise – which naturally makes people their key assets. But what specifically does differentiate one expert from another? Based on our experience, what sets each firm apart and own the white space they want to own, are the insights that a subject matter expert can provide. But they need to go beyond and be able to inform the solutions and processes that really help businesses when it comes to solving the unique challenges they face. Knowledge and experience is power, and positioning experts who can lend specialist insights is what sets not only themselves apart, but it contributes to the reputation that the firm has in the market. This can be illustrated in the context of a law firm and its market reputation where it might be known for its particular brand of law and expertise.

Thought leadership content catered to target client segments

Professional services firms such as law firms and management consultancies, tend to have a bank of thought leadership content. Some might produce global flagship thought leadership including studies, but this needs to be relevant and relatable to local audiences and stakeholders. A global report, should not pay lip service to localisation, tying it to topical news hooks and interests is a must to make it fly particularly when it comes to dealing with the complexities of Asia’s markets. When it comes to data-heavy thought leadership content, at times professional services firms try too hard to create a global launch – that doesn’t reflect a sample size relative to the region. They miss to identify a golden thread that makes sense of selective data to tell a story which plays to the advantage of reinforcing the firm’s brand positioning and offerings.

Serving the needs of professional services firms and building strong and differentiated reputations in a tightly knit race, requires a well-coordinated effort that starts from within.  Bringing together subject matter experts and empowering them to share the value of their expertise as well as why it matters for the brand or organisation, means the support of experienced communications professionals cannot be underestimated. There are endless ways to cut through the noise but getting everyone to sing from the same song-sheet, requires skill, experience and deep sector understanding.

This piece was written by Natalie Siu, General Manager and Kim Spear, Director, Sandpiper Hong Kong. PRHK Viewpoints is an article series contributed by members of PRHK, Hong Kong’s PR & communications association.